Five stress-busting tips for IT pros

How you deal with stress can affect your performance and career success. Here are some field-tested tips for keeping stress levels under control.

"I'm stressed out. The environment around here is bad, and it's getting worse. I'm concerned that the economy's going to take a long time get back to normal — if it ever does."

I hear a lot of comments like this. But in this case, the speaker is a client who's actually a successful leader. She works in an organization that seems to be bulletproof when it comes to the recession's effects. There seems to be no risk to her at this stage. So you might ask, "Why is SHE concerned?"

I think there are several compelling reasons for the way she's feeling. Many people are being impacted in a similar way:

  • Every day we hear how bad the economy is. Even if you're not being downsized, or losing a mortgage, or trying to recover some of your lost investments, you're exposed to the news everyday and everywhere.
  • There seems to be little precedent for this gloomy, worldwide situation. Usually, when times are tough, we can look to leaders, experts, or wise individuals for guidance based on experience. But this time seems different — and it seems worse than before.
  • Your fight or flight response may kick in but not have any outlet. You're spending time in the office, the car, or at home, and you're not doing anything physical. Your body and your psyche then react in a bad way because our systemic responses were designed to deal with problems physically.

Any one of these reasons can create stress, and when combined, it could be a recipe for a disaster. Here are a few suggestions I've been sharing with our clients at

Note: These tips are based on an entry in our IT Leadership blog.

1: Take a deep breath

You've heard this many times, but here's the thing — you probably don't do it regularly. And it works. Doctors, sports coaches, and therapists will tell you that a deep breath, done thoughtfully, can do an amazing amount of good. It can clear your head, stop headaches, reduce your blood pressure, and make you less angry.

2: Find an outlet

Without an outlet, you will carry your stress in your body. It won't simply go away because the immediate aggravation is over for the time being. It manifests in things like back problems or stiff necks. It gets worse the longer you don't give your body the chance to get rid of it by doing something physical. So do something. It doesn't have to be demanding, just rejuvenating. For example, yoga is a great exercise for anyone at any level. Dancing is great even by yourself. Anything to deal with the stress in a physical way.

3: Get some decent sleep and consider your diet

Without a good night's sleep, you're going to become more emotional, less reasonable and productive, and more foggy. You'll also see signs of aging more quickly and have more aches and pains. Remember: The quality of the sleep is the issue — not how much time you spend in the bed. It's also important to pay attention to how much you eat and what you eat. Both can affect your ability to perform at peak efficiency.

4: Help someone

It feels really good to help others. It creates a rush that is difficult to create in any other way. There are people in worse situations than you are, and you can volunteer your service. It doesn't have to be a poor family down the road (although that's a wonderful place to start) — it can be that guy across the cube who is struggling with something you think is simple, or perhaps your aunt who never gets invited out for dinner because she's a bit odd. This action helps improve your self-confidence and often improves your game at work.

5: Express gratitude

There are usually a couple of things that are good in everyone's life. It's valuable to focus on them. Regularly. Research on the subject indicates that being grateful for what we have is one of the primary causes of happiness and — here's the big one — greater success. That's right. Those who are the most grateful for what they have in their lives enjoy more of those successes.

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John M. McKee is the founder and CEO of, an international consulting and coaching practice with subscribers in 43 countries. One of the founding senior executives of DIRECTV, his hands-on experience includes leading billion d...

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